NFL, Tampa Communicate COVID Protocols: Will Super Bowl Fans Listen?

Super Bowl LIV logo

In a year when many questioned if major league sports would return, we’ve witnessed a World Series, the Stanley Cup and NBA Finals, amongst other championship events. Albeit these all occurred without fans in the stands. 

On Sunday, Feb. 7, the U.S. will witness a first during the pandemic—more than 22,000 ticket holders attending the Super Bowl, in-person, at the actual venue, Raymond James Stadium, which holds 75,000 people. This, of course, brings a new set of challenges to the event—maintaining the health and safety of attendees.  

The NFL, Super Bowl Host Committee and Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau worked to create health and safety guidelines for game attendees, as well as visitors traveling to the city. However, establishing guidelines is one thing—getting out this messaging to thousands is another. 

Direct to Consumer

While the city of Tampa and Host Committee play a great role in Super Bowl attendees' safety regarding travel and activities, the NFL holds the most captive audience concerning brand reputation. For attendees, it went a highly technological route, creating a fan game day playbook online, as well as communicating directly with ticket holders via an app. 

The playbook includes logistical and safety information: maps of the Super Bowl compound and COVID-19-related information, featuring a football-themed video on game day safety tips. The messaging includes: “Football is a game of inches so give yourself plenty of space between you and the next fan,” “Let’s limit the penalties out there by only huddling with your team. Please stick to your assigned seats,” “Your face covering is the right equipment,” and “Every team loves good defense so use one of our many hand sanitizing stations located throughout Raymond James Stadium.”

In addition to the playbook, the NFL One Pass app provides ticket holders with an entirely mobile, hands-free experience that will allow cash-free payments throughout the stadium, as well as important push notifications from the NFL. 

“There will be “Know Before You Go” communication pushed out in the days leading up to Super Bowl via push notifications on text and emails,” an NFL spokesperson said. “This includes health and safety info, what you can/can’t bring into the stadium, etc.”

The NFL also released a video with the NFL Events team that goes behind the scenes to show the media and public the work done to adhere to strict COVID-19 protocols and bring fans a unique, yet safe, experience. The video includes a look at logistics put in place for fan flow traffic at the stadium, and examples of social distancing set by 30,000 fan cutouts placed in the empty seats of the stadium, among other strategies. 

Travel and Tourism

This is a unique Super Bowl, where one of the teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is hosting the game in its home stadium. This has never happened before. However, the destination will also lure Kansas City Chiefs fans and football lovers living outside the area, as well as media, players, vendors and celebrities who want the Super Bowl experience. 

This created a welcome challenge for the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), which works with hotels, restaurants, municipalities and attractions to communicate guidelines for safety, and travel and tourism concerns. 

Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago C. Corrada said the destination is doing everything in its power to safely host the game and distribute pertinent information to visitors. 

“Visit Tampa Bay has created a resource page for visitors, which includes public safety information from city officials, 'know before you go' measures from the Host Committee and protocols at the airport upon arrival,” he said. “Hoteliers are committed to cleanliness unlike never before and have found unique ways to operate through contactless check-in options, modified amenities and dedicated cleaning staff. The same can be said for restaurants who have moved extended operations outdoors.”

Hotels and restaurants are one piece of the puzzle. A larger piece, airline travelers, created another challenge for Super Bowl attendee communication, in which the Tampa airport became a very important partner for the CVB.

“Tampa International Airport has been lauded for its safety protocols and was among the first to pioneer COVID testing pre- and post-flight on airport grounds,” Corrada said. “They are also no strangers to large-scale events in Tampa Bay, having hosted prior Super Bowls, the RNC and college football playoffs in the past. The airport is recommending that visitors travel with ample time in anticipation of longer TSA lines and increased traffic, especially Monday following the game.”

Even with all of the extra considerations, Corrada expressed thanks for the area to be a part of this global event. 

“Ultimately, our destination is simply grateful to be hosting such a meaningful, historic game when our community and its businesses need it the most,” he said. 

Communicating Mandates

Unfortunately, communication is only one part of the event experience. The real test will be the enforcement of rules, guidelines and mandates when it comes to the fans. 

The Super Bowl Host Committee provides one of the most extensive sites for partner information regarding game day experiences and Super Bowl week protocols. It provides a central partnership between the NFL, teams, city, stadium, vendors and more. Its fan site provides links to health and safety policies, including the city’s executive order mask mandate. Through the mandate the city requires face mask coverings within specific outdoor locations in the city of Tampa. Face coverings also are required indoors. 

Every Super Bowl website we've seen acknowledges the requirement of fans to wear masks at all-times at the event, except when eating or drinking. 

While fans can find a robust catalogue of information to prepare for the experience, enforcement of guidelines remains to be seen at the event. While any gathering of thousands of people holds a risk, according to The Sporting News, the NFL removes its liability for any fans who make it into the game while carrying COVID-19.

Gil Fried, chair and professor of sports management at The University of New Haven, said all the NFL can do is prepare.  

“The NFL is undertaking standard health safety steps for the Super Bowl, such as meeting with relevant health officials, social distancing, masks, and numerous sanitation stations,” Fried said.  “But that is only the start. They are utilizing directional signage, staggered entering/exiting times/locations, dedicated first-aid space for those who feel sick after entering the facility, and going cashless with all transactions. It is impossible to provide a perfectly safe facility/event, but the NFL is taking appropriate steps.”

However, Fried said, fans will play a major role in health and safety during and after the game. 

“The key will not be the NFL, security, public address announcements, and numerous signs,” he said. “No, the key will be the fans. I tell my sport law students there is a constitutional right to be an idiot and people exercise that right on a daily basis. With all the policies and procedures, there will be fans who violate those rules and that is the biggest risk.”

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal